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Government must clarify its commitment to PACER Plus

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The Hon Julie Bishop, MP Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Deputy Leader of the Opposition Member for Curtin

Government must clarify its commitment to PACER Plus

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Gillard Labor Government must clarify its level of commitment to the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus negotiations after no mention was made of this initiative in the Trade Policy statement released last week.

The failure to include PACER Plus in the statement has caused some consternation in the region.

Solomon Islands Trade Envoy Robert Sisilo is reported to have called on the Australian government to explain why it was not included and said, "We would certainly want some definite confirmation from Australia where exactly or what exactly do they mean by that."

Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Richard Marles is reported to have said in a statement (not available on his website) that PACER Plus is not like a "traditional free trade agreement."

This would come as news to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which has PACER Plus listed as one of several Free Trade Agreements currently under negotiation.

Regardless, the excuse offered by Mr Marles does not explain why it was excluded from the Labor Government’s Trade Policy statement.

Former Trade Minister Crean repeatedly referred to PACER Plus as a “new trade and economic integration agreement in the Pacific”, and provided $1.5 million over three years for the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser to be based in Vanuatu to “provide Forum Island countries with independent support and advice over the course of the PACER Plus negotiation”.

The Government must explain whether it failed to include PACER Plus in its new Trade Policy statement because of incompetence, or whether it has indeed downgraded the importance of this proposed agreement.

PACER Plus is an opportunity to boost economic growth and standards of living in the Pacific region and its omission from the Government’s trade policy statement is further evidence that Labor is not giving the region the attention that it deserves.

Concerns about this issue were raised in my National Times blog earlier this week.